Fortifying the Firewalls

The Cult of Personality and a short lesson in online security.

Places to speak freely on the internet are diminishing, and the new norm is for people to censor their own speech out of fear. Once, the only people to be cautious around were the ‘loving and tolerant’ Left who would go out of their way to dox, harass and have you fired from your job for having a differing opinion. However, with the introduction of the Scottish Hate Crime Bill, Online Harms, Communications Act and the sideways drift into increasingly Authoritarian Government, the consequences of speaking freely have increased substantially. Losing your job because of the Hate Mob is one thing, losing your Liberty to the State for an opinion is another. While there are a small number of free speech bastions left, they’ve already been tarnished with the hysterical and equally mythical ‘far right’ label. Anyone found using those platforms will find themselves with an automatic branding by association, regardless of their content.

The problem we have today is the Cult of Personality. Everyone wants to be famous, everyone wants to be ‘known’, everyone wants thousands of followers hanging on their every word. We’ve become so addicted to quick dopamine hits from likes and retweets that they’ve become more important than the message itself. And the danger of having a personality is becoming a victim to instant cancellation (or worse). We all know many people have spent years, even decades, building a web presence only to see it disappear instantly thanks to the multi-platform Silicon Valley cartel.

Ideas change the world, not people. While it could be argued they benefit from an enigmatic speaker, very often the speaker is forgotten and the idea lives on. No doubt we could name many important political figures from history and what they stood for, but where did they get their ideas from? For all we know they could’ve overheard a passing stranger and merely expounded on them. The problem here is twofold – good ideas often come from people who don’t have the personality to make them popular, but becoming a personality brings a huge amount of personal risk. Perhaps it makes more sense to broadcast your ideas anonymously and hope that someone else will carry them for you publicly?

The nature of the internet is changing, but it’s still (just) possible to remain relatively anonymous. Sites such as 4chan/8chan enforce anonymity – anyone trying to establish a personality is quickly shouted down for good reason. This ensures a free exchange of ideas, good and bad, open to scrutiny or praise from anyone without fear of reprisals. Just like the best memes, good ideas tend to flourish and evolve and bad ideas perish. So if one chooses this path of anonymity, what best practises can be used to ensure their liberty remains intact? I’ve compiled a short list of my own recommendations and whilst not comprehensive, it should serve as a good starting point for anyone who still values the concept of free speech and an open market of ideas.

1. Don’t use Mainstream Social Media as ‘you’ for anything other than milquetoast content.

Silicon Valley companies are known to spill your personal details to any law enforcement agency at the drop of a hat (likely in exchange for certain tax ‘privileges’). Law enforcement agencies love to trawl your personal social media accounts looking for statements that can be taken out of context. Avoid oversharing. Never be logged into a mainstream social media platform whilst also browsing any ‘problematic’ websites – even with a fake IP address a profile can be built on correlation.

2. Create an alternate online personae (or preferably many).

There are free websites available that can generate false names, addresses, up to and including Government related details (social security numbers etc). Whilst it’s not illegal to do this (you’re not impersonating anyone that exists, or breaking any laws), check the terms and condition of the particular website you’re registering with. It’s very likely if caught you’ll lose your account for breaking ToS, but as it’s not a real account there’s no harm done. Obviously, never try to use any fake details for anything in the real world or you’ll likely be charged with fraud or worse.

3. Never use your personal email address or phone number for anything except family members or those you absolutely trust.

Don’t even use it to register with ‘legitimate’ organisations, such as your Doctor, Lawyer, or any Government institution. Cross platform email and phone searches are very easy to do and a simple way to track people from website to website. When registering for anything that won’t require future access (single registration to a forum or website), always use disposable email addresses and phone numbers for Two Factor Authentication. Never use the same email, password or phone number twice.

4. Use a web browser that won’t track you by default, and always browse in Private mode.

While this may become an annoyance to enter login details repeatedly every time you close and re-open your browser window, the security enhancement is worth the effort. Be aware of what information your browser ‘spills’, and how it can be used to track you.

5. Use a darknet when discussing opinions or sharing literature that could be regarded as ‘wrong think’ (TOR, Freenet, I2P etc).

Again there are limitations to using these services (speed and reliability) but they far outweigh the risks.

6. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

In the last few years ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have implemented policies that are completely contrary to a free and open internet. ISPs can now block websites on a whim (or if asked to by law enforcement). You may not be able to visit certain websites simply because they don’t ‘conform’ to the mainstream view, but a good VPN can alleviate this problem. Always use a branded VPN (inexpensive), never use a free one. Free ones have been known to log your traffic and divulge that information at will. You can generally trust the larger VPNs – just a single breach on their part would likely become common knowledge, and you would soon know about it.

7. Use encryption where possible.

For the same reason you wouldn’t write a private love letter on a postcard, no-one but you has a right to see your personal thoughts. The Government has gotten the idea that transcribing the thoughts in your head into another format (email, text, written word) makes it de-facto Government property and gives them the power to view it at will.

8. Be careful of whom you are talking to in personal or group messages, and what could happen if their device ever became compromised.

You might have great security, but if someone else doesn’t then nothing will save you or anyone else in that conversation. Use different levels of self-censorship depending on the medium you’re using or the people you’re speaking to. Have a top level of self censorship (Facebook, Mainstream) where you never speak freely, then drill down into alt-media, group chats, then trusted groups, all the way down to 1-1 conversations with people you trust implicitly. Always adjust your conversation based on the comparative risk of the medium you’re currently using, and the person you’re having the conversation with.

9. Never divulge any personal information online that you wouldn’t tell that person in real life.

Obviously your friends and family would like to know where you live, what pets you have, your age and marital status, but there’s absolutely no reason why a stranger would need to know any of that. It can be tempting in an online debate to bolster your argument with statements such as “I’ve got 3 kids, so..” or “My wife works as a…” but resist the urge – keep your private life private at all times.

10. Probably the hardest part of all – remove all ego from everything you do.

It’s very tempting to personalise yourself online and get those sweet dopamine hits, but if the worst happens you will be arrested, scrubbed from the internet, and nothing you say will ever be remembered anyway. You need to be in a position where you can pick up and drop accounts without any emotional attachment. Remember, your idea is important, you aren’t. Get out of the habit of revisiting conversations over and over to count likes and thumbs ups, wean yourself off that dopamine. If what you said had any value, other people will pass on that information for you.

It’s sad that these are the things we need to do, but unfortunately that’s how bad things have become. It should be noted we’re not talking about anything that the average person in the street would find offensive, objectionable or even illegal. However in the current climate almost anything can and will be used against you. The CPS is infamous for quote-mining the very worst things you’ve ever said, all taken out of context, in order to secure a conviction. That spicy political meme you shared on Facebook? That will be used together with tiny snippets of conversations from multiple times and places – to paint you as a dangerous radical that needs to be behind bars.

I know some people still scoff at the idea of internet anonymity, especially those among us who are older or less internet savvy. The question remains – is your ego really more important to you than your liberty? At the moment you think you’re safe and secure, it’s only the ‘bad’ people that are being removed from society. But that knife edge constantly gets sharpened, and before long it’ll be you that gets shaved off.

Guest Contributor William Foster


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